Technology

No Fiber for you: Google leaves would-be customers frustrated

Google Fiber told an unknown number of prospective customers across the Kansas City market this month that it has no imminent plans to connect them to its high-speed internet lines.
Google Fiber told an unknown number of prospective customers across the Kansas City market this month that it has no imminent plans to connect them to its high-speed internet lines. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Adam Kinder waited about a year the first time he signed up for Google Fiber’s faster-than-fast internet service. Liked it quite well, thank you.

Then he moved and signed up again in August 2015 at his new address. Figured it wouldn’t take long to get wired. After all, his neighbors had already plugged into the search giant’s foray into fiberoptic internet hook-ups.

Then, crickets.

The company said it would get around to installing the service to his home … eventually.

In the meantime, he bought TV and internet service from AT&T, paying a premium for month-to-month bills rather than a long-term contract because he figured Google Fiber was coming soon enough. After a time, he switched to Time Warner Cable (subsequently merged into Charter and operating now as Spectrum), still hoping he could get the faster speeds of Google Fiber.

Until this month.

Google wrote to Kinder, and an untold number of other customers-in-waiting across the market, that “although we’ve been working hard to bring you service, we’re unable to build our network to connect your home or business at this time.”

Google refunded the $10 deposits that customers had put down, but to those like Kinder, that didn’t erase the disappointment.

“I know we’re not entitled to it,” Kinder said. “But I could have made some different plans if I knew it was never going to come.”

Google Fiber would take issue with “never,” but the course of its deployment in Kansas City and across the country has veered into uncertain territory.

Alphabet, Google Fiber’s parent company, last month installed a new boss in its “Access” division and shifted hundreds of employees who’d been working on the home internet service at its California headquarters to other missions.

The company has said it’s pulling back on hard-wire installations while it explores cheaper ways to deliver 1-gigabit-per-second speeds to home customers, including the possibility of beaming internet service over fixed wireless channels.

Google purchased Webpass in June 2016 and announced in February the use of its wireless technology to sell gigabit service to apartment buildings in Denver.

A Google Fiber statement about the cancellation notices to prospective customers in the Kansas City market noted wireless technology and advances in making trenches to bury fiberoptic cable as hope that deployment might pick up speed again.

“In order to focus our efforts and resources, we’ll be slowing construction in some areas until we can layer in the new deployment models we’re developing,” the company said.

At the same time, Google Fiber said it’s trying to round up customers now in Raymore and central Overland Park.

As for the not-now notices, “We are simply telling customers we won’t be building to them in 2017 and we want to refund their deposit and let them know as opposed to making them wait.”

To Roger Entner, who follows the cable and internet industries for Recon Analytics, the notices are “like when your girlfriend tells you that she needs time.”

The company has long said that better internet service for customers is a boon for the advertising business that pays the bills in Mountain View. Entner said Google’s behavior suggests the company has soured on building residential internet networks itself. Instead, he believes its parent company is likely pleased that its mere presence in the business of selling internet service prompted competitors to boost upload and download speeds.

AT&T, for instance, didn’t offer gigabit speeds until after Google Fiber launched. Now it sells that high-end bandwidth in 51 markets with plans to add 16 more.

Indeed, most consumers in Kansas City have seen their internet speeds double, without price increases, since Google stepped into the market. This week, for instance, Comcast said that customers paying for 25 megabits-per-second would get 55 mps for the same price and those paying for 50 mps would see their speeds run to 70 megabits without a price hike.

To Kinder, who’d waited years for the Google Fiber service that never came, that change in the market is his silver lining.

“They made the other players step up a bit,” he said. “Now I just hope that lasts.”

Dick Young waited years to get Google Fiber connected to his south Kansas City home, with only vague and frustrating answers from the company about the delay. He didn’t feel like he’d passed up on savings from other providers while waiting for the installation. But after he switched to Google Fiber, discount offers poured in.

“The other guys, once we stopped them, then we got deluged with calls,” he said. “I thought, ‘Well, if you could have, you should have’ ” offered lower prices before he signed a Google Fiber contract.

U.S. Housing Secretary Julián Castro visited the West Bluff public housing complex in Kansas City on Wednesday to announce the first of 1,300 area families in subsidized housing who will receive free or reduced-cost super-fast Internet connections

Scott Canon: 816-234-4754, @ScottCanon

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